Sounding Like a Native English Speaker Should Not Be Your Goal
You know, I’ve always been one of those people who wants to do things exactly the way they’re supposed to be done. So when I first started learning English, which was probably at the age of 5, I wanted to amaze people by how well I could speak the language and “imitate” the accent of a native English speaker. I believe a “perfectionist” is what they call it.
However, throughout the years I’ve come to realize that “sounding” and “talking” like a native English speaker are two totally different things.
“Sounding” like a native has mostly to do with the accent and is sort of inherent to people born in an English-speaking country. Therefore, it isn’t so easy to accomplish for most of us whose native language isn’t English.
On the other hand, “talking” like a native English speaker is where most of us have got the upper hand. There are just so many ways you can impress when speaking English. You may end up actually impressing native speakers with your knowledge.
“Talking” rather than “sounding” like a native English speaker should be your main goal, and here’s how you can achieve it.
A Huge Vocabulary Range
Let’s say you’re having a conversation with a native speaker. Understanding every single thing you hear in that conversation is ultimately going to be limited by how much English you actually understand, meaning how large of an English vocabulary you have.
There are plenty of ways to learn new vocabulary but using what you know in a conversation effectively is what actually demonstrates your language prowess, especially if you’re talking to a native speaker.
Constantly expanding your vocabulary is one of the main things you should do as a language learner. Simply put, knowing too many words is never a bad thing. However, if you know all the right things to say, especially idioms and phrasal verbs, then you’re already a step closer to speaking like a native.
I think it’s safe to say that one of the main reasons most learners think that English is hard to learn is its grammar. After all, it is the glue that sticks everything together. In my opinion, English grammar is probably the most unnoticeable thing ever when it is done right, but it’s the most painful aspect of English to experience when done wrong.
Imagine saying something like “Why are you here? I never sent you no invitation!” when someone you really don’t like comes to your party. You’ve literally got no reason to complain since the double negation you used, which is a complete no-go in English, indicates that you had actually invited them over. So, who’s the bad guy here?
However, if you’re in complete control of all the English tenses and using the right tense at the right time in the right context with all the right punctuation is “natural” for you, then you’ve already understood the assignment here.
Knowing proper grammar and all the tiny aspects of everyday language use is a must, and it’s one of the key things that turns everyday language learners into native-like speakers.
The Everyday Stuff
I know I just said it, but strike my previous sentence completely! Let’s face it. For most of us, using English on a day-to-day basis is limited to social media. This usually means a complete disregard for English grammar and using abbreviations, acronyms, and slang very often. However, nobody speaks like that in real life!
When it comes to having a real-time conversation, using proper grammar, vocabulary, and things like contractions, articles or connectors the right way should never be overlooked, as it may severely damage the outcome of what you’re saying.
The same goes for written English, so beware of the “grammar Nazis” on social media–they never sleep!
Ease of Comprehension
Let me stop and ask you a question real quick: Who determines whether you sound or talk like a native English speaker?
Let me tell you: it’s the person you’re talking to! Knowing something on paper or in a test is one thing; using it in speech or writing naturally and skillfully is what ultimately makes people understand you.
In a nutshell, we can say that having the goal of sounding like a native English speaker is two-fold. The perfect example: I’ve got friends that grew up in the States and actually have a native accent, yet they somehow still make common mistakes in English that take away a lot of the “wow” factor and make it hard for me to understand them properly.
On the other end, I have no trouble understanding a lot of my friends around the world who speak a different native language because their English is simply perfect word-for-word; zero mistakes whatsoever in both written and spoken English! Of course, the added native-like accent is always a huge plus and creates a full package for any learner.
So, which one’s your next goal: “sounding” or “talking” like a native English speaker? Choose wisely.
Jasmin Alić is an award-winning EFL/ESL teacher and writing aficionado from Bosnia and Herzegovina with years of experience in multicultural learning environments.